Updated on 05.08.07

Five Ways To Break A Shopping Addiction – And Five Ways To Help Someone Else With Their Addiction

Trent Hamm

One of my wife’s closest friends is completely addicted to shopping, and unsurprisingly she spends a lot of time juggling credit card bills and dumping huge amounts of cash into finance charges just to gain enough breathing room to shop some more.

Recently, she’s begun to see that things are going to have to change in order for her to get financially ahead in life. Here are the ten tips I offered her to help her break her shopping addiction.

“Shop” without any method of payment. If the in-store experience is what you crave, then simply go there without any method of payment. This method lets you spend your time there as you wish, but keeps you from putting anything else on the credit card.

Do a spring cleaning. Go through all the stuff you have and decide which things you actually need – or even want. Collect together all of the useful stuff in one place, then really look at it. For some, the sight of how many useless things they’ve wasted their money on often can shock them into a change.

Chop up your credit cards. Don’t allow yourself the option of charging any more – simply chop up your cards and delete those numbers from any online accounts that may use them. This way, the only method you have available to you to spend is your actual cash.

Avoid the stores altogether. Do anything at all besides going to the stores where you’re tempted to waste money. Whenever you even think about the possibility, just do something else.

Change your routine. If part of your daily or weekly routine is to go to a particular place where you’re tempted to spend, change the routine. This may involve finding a new commute or any number of things, but the key is to take temptations out of your daily routine.

As a friend, however, you can go an extra step to help someone overcome their shopping addiction. Here are five things I am willing to do to help her out to get past her addiction.

Introduce her to inexpensive activities. She can come along when we do free, fun stuff like spending time in the park, doing volunteer work, and so on. These things can be a ton of fun, and so I strive to show her the fun parts of doing things where you don’t have to come home with an empty wallet.

Show her how to shop frugally. I could also go on shopping trips with her, showing her how to shop frugally and find good deals on stuff. Instead of dropping $300 at a clothes store, spend some time looking at what’s available at less-expensive clothes outlets.

Help her rework her budget. Spending an afternoon with her going through her spending in detail and showing her some better ways to optimize her money. This works well if the person is also taking some steps to actually curb their spending, as she is.

Invite her over to eat. We make simple, frugal meals all the time at home, while she usually eats out. Thus, inviting her over to eat and getting her involved in the food preparation works really well. It takes ten minutes to make a big batch of spaghetti, requires two pans and a bit of silverware, and makes enough that you can eat it multiple nights – a perfect example of how to cut down on spending. As does the crockpot.

Offer lots of encouragement. This seems strange to some: encouraging a friend not to shop? The best way to do this is to keep tabs on what they’re doing and make it clear that not buying a bunch of stuff is in fact a great, positive thing. Have a party for them when they pay off a credit card, for instance.

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  1. boomie says:

    Over shopping is a disease. There are psychological reasons why we (yes me) do it. For me, it’s a constant daily struggle. Some of the points you mention are good but until you uncover the ‘real’ reason why you self-destruct (through over spending) it will be a losing battle.

  2. This is a pretty good list. One addition I have is this:

    If something is more than $25, you can’t buy it right away. If you decide 2 days later that you still want it, you can go out and get it, but only on the next trip where you are doing somehting else. This ends up meaning that it is 4-10 days before you can get something. If you really want it that long, then it is mroe worthwhile.

    A couple years ago, I talked my wife in to doing this and I do it too. It works great.

    I learned it as a child when I had to save up for months for any purchase. I saved up for a RC car for 9 months and I loved it for years.

  3. Dan Veasey says:

    On the first tip I would add, don’t bring any ID with you either. That way you can’t open a new account at the store.

    Changing the routine, replacing old habits with new ones, and personal accountability are key to beating any addiction.

    Great advice!

  4. Kat says:

    My addiction is the local used book store. They carry books, CDs, DVDs, and a variety of other addictive media. A few years ago, I found out that they have a hold program. You can shop, then ask them to place your items on hold for you. The items are stored behind the cashier’s counter and you have up to 7 days to claim them. I’ve been using the hold shelf to give myself a minimum of 48 hours to reconsider any impulse buy. I’ll usually come away with one item from my original haul, but the majority of the impulse grabs stay in the store.
    I’m not sure how many stores offer a service like this, but it’s a lifesaver if it’s available!

  5. PurplePig says:

    For those who have a shopping problem that they can’t deal with, there is also a 12 step program. I think it is called Shopaholics Anonymous?

  6. Rob in Madrid says:

    That’s been a problem for my wife and I we both love shopping and spending money! Spending sometime here has really made me think about how I view money and spending (thank you Trent) I’ve starting saying to my wife that if she wants to escape the corporate grind and she can but it will mean trade offs, so over the last bit of holidays we’ve been talking about what changes we’d have to make. So Trent I guess I be spending alot more time here figuring what changes we need to make.

    keep up the good work

  7. KMK says:

    Here’s another one: A “naked lady” party. Get a bunch of friends to all go through their closets at the same time. Then everyone brings all the clothes/shoes/etc you no longer want or fit into to someone’s house, and you all swap. It’s hard to envision until you do it, but it is great fun, and I always leave feeling like I’ve just been shopping.

  8. HoldenMcgroin says:

    The biggest thing about this is that she has to WANT to change. I have a friend who formerly was a stay at home mom who didn’t really need the money should would have made from a job (or so she claims). She started working 3 years ago and I guess gave herself free reign to spend as much money as she wants because she was then working. She now has a huge amount of credit card debt, and she’s constantly having trouble making the payments. I always try to talk her into giving up her credit cards so she can pay them off, but she just charges them up as soon as she makes the minimum payment. She also eats out at least 8 times a week. Sometimes it is fast food, so it’s only like 7 bucks, but usually it is a restaurant where she’s going to be paying a minimum of 10 bucks per meal, usually more than that. I also tried to talk her into bringing her lunch and eating more frugally but she says that since she works she feels like she deserves to eat out whenever she wants. She’s also really obese and I think the eating out less would help with that, but she won’t listen to my suggestions and I can’t really come out and say “hey, you’re a friggin’ disgusting glutton, get a hold of yourself!”

  9. John Jackson says:

    You should shop if you want. You only live once.

  10. Jessica says:

    Although it might not be the case with your wife’s friend, but inviting a person over for dinner and taking them places with you can turn a budget-challenged person into a mooch. If they’re starving and at the food bank, by all means, help feed them. It would be better to show a friend how to make meals and shop frugally for groceries.

    Also, if your friend doesn’t want to change or want your help then don’t push it. Watch out for the friend who thinks “you’re no fun” because you are on a budget. They’re not going to be supportive of your goals, and tempt you to overspend. Much like that “friend” who brings you sweets when you’re on a diet.

  11. Killer Bees says:

    Any addiction is a sign of emotional emptiness. Why else would a person do nasty things to themselves to make themselves feel better?

    You can’t beat an addiction until you address the underlying emotional reason.

    If you respect and love yourself you won’t over eat or buy stuff you don’t need.

  12. Beth says:

    Also another thing that is suggested on the show “Big Spender” is to never shop without a chaperone.
    If you always have to take someone with you on any shopping type trip, you will have to account for any purchases. Also, it does help open conversations about money and how you spend it.

  13. Jenyfer says:

    Also remember resale shops for barely worn purchases–I do this, and when I sell something I paid $50 for and only come away with $8–it reinforces how much money I wasted for that momentary glow.

  14. Cheryl says:

    Another sign of being addicted to shopping is when the “stuff” you buy is sitting around in boxes or the clothes still have the tags on them. They are being bought to fill up an emotional “hole” which has an open bottom. The stuff makes you feel good for that day, and then tomorrow you feel empty again. I have a sister who does this.

  15. Mel says:

    I am the last person to give someone a pass on personal responsibility but seriously, some of us (myself, Trent, etc.) were taught when we were little that buying stuff would make us happy. It takes some people longer to learn than others that having stuff doesn’t make you any happier, just poorer. If buying stuff made you happy there wouldn’t be so many miserable celebrities now would there? The difference between them and us is that we are usually forced to confront our warped viewpoint a lot sooner and adjust our ways than they are because we aren’t as financially enabled.

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